In this chapter I describe the place of the witch as a space of the fantastic, particularly with regard to the undecidability of the witch; her liminality in culture and literature; and the challenge she presents to the apparent normalities of patriarchal domination. I attend to representations of the witch in ten novels: Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate; Celia Rees’s Witch Child; Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad; J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Neil Gaiman’s Stardust; David Lindsay’s The Witch; John Buchan’s Witch Wood; Paolo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello; and Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching.

In some of these books the witch is clearly portrayed and central to the action; in others she is dimly glimpsed, if actually seen at all. The point is that the witch is not a fixed entity: she (or very occasionally he) is an object of the gaze, a product of perception. The space she apparently occupies shimmers and shakes; now you see her, now you don’t. Yet at the same time the witch can be used as a register of social doubts and unease, from the religious torments of the seventeenth century to the racial tensions and misrepresentations of the contemporary world - but above all she figures in a continuing discourse about the spaces between the genders, a discourse which shows no sign of abating.

The witch is a figure of power; and yet at the same time she is a figure of powerlessness. She may be feared - or at least it is possible that she may have been feared in some ever-receding space of past history - but at the same time she is an object of abjection, continually exiled, thrown out of her own home, her own space, banished to the extremities of civilization. Most of the books I consider are adult, whatever that might mean; but some are written with adolescents in mind, and it is clear that the witch is at the moment a potent figure especially for girls as they mature and sense some of the wrongs of their assigned place in the world. Perhaps under these circumstances of continuing inequality, the only solution, as it may also have been in the seventeenth century, is a version of witchcraft, whether as a so-called reality or, at the very least, as a resonant metaphor for revolt.